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|"If you do anything the least bit suspicious, don't think I won't kill you just because you freed us."
"Ha! Don't think I won't kill you just because I freed you.
|— Taro and Kuzon|
Counting Losses is the eleventh chapter of the AU fanfiction story.
As they fly away, the airbenders discover Kuzon is Fire Nation. Taro wants to throw him overboard, but he is calmed by his friends. Kuzon explains what he did, but Taro still has a confrontation with him. Finally they decide to take him as far as the South Pole, where the Air Nomads are going for healing. The trauma of the battle makes Kuzon sick and feverish. Taro helps him after he collapses, and agrees to work with him to save the other Air Temples.
Kunchen was shocked at the sight of the unconscious man who had just joined them on the bison. "Uh...maybe you should look at this, guys."
The remaining conscious airbenders gathered around the newcomer, but Taro was too busy piloting the bison. He thought it was just another airbender and Kunchen was getting worked up over his injuries.
"He's a firebender!" one boy exclaimed.
Taro was shocked. He leapt back into the saddle. "Khalama, take over," he said to one of the boys, examining the unconscious firebender. "This is the one who freed us," Kunchen said.
Taro regarded the man. "We should throw him off."
"What? No!" Kunchen interrupted Taro's airbending of the body. "Taro, he saved us. Didn't you see? A firebender was fighting him too."
"Oh, I saw. Did you see what they did to the temple? Did you see what his people did to Jangbu?" He was almost shouting, glaring right into Kunchen's eyes. "...Or did you miss that? ...He's dangerous, and not to be trusted! We should throw him overboard before he wakes up and decides to change his mind."
"He already saved us. Do you really think he's going to do that?"
Taro turned away and sat, looking out into the night. He whispered, "I don't know what to think anymore." He flopped onto his back, staring straight up.
"We can easily throw him off if he does try anything." Kunchen tried to compromise with Taro.
"Fine," Taro said with no particular tone at all. He pulled his orange outer cloak over his face. "Wake me when we get there."
They flew all night and most of the next day. Jangbu stopped breathing sometime in the night, but Kunchen used the airbending technique of forcing breath into a body to keep him alive. Khalama was scared and woke up Taro. He drove Pema faster. There wasn't much else he could do.
Shortly before they made it to the South Pole, Kuzon woke up. He didn't realize he had lived, or that any of the airbenders had either. "Is this the Spirit World?" he asked.
"No, you're alive," Kunchen smiled. He couldn't be angry at the man.
Taro immediately went back to the saddle and confronted Kuzon. "Why did you attack the Temple?!" He grabbed Kuzon's cape right where it wrapped around his neck. Kuzon was a year older than he, but his anger at the Fire Nation and his mentor's betrayal had temporarily wiped away his usual timidity. "Why did you kill the airbenders?! What do you want?!"
Kuzon was still in something of a daze. "Thought my brother...only wanted the island...They were starving...He lied...Kill the Avatar..."
"You were going to kill Aang?!" Taro threw Kuzon out of his grasp like garbage. The other monks moved to the sides of the saddle. He built up a charge of air between his hands and intended to use it on the firebender. Kuzon didn't move. Then, without opening his eyes, he said, "I was Aang's friend."
The ball of air died between Taro's palms. His face softened. "What?" he whispered.
"Aang and I were friends. When he used to visit the Fire Nation." Kuzon panted. "My brother swore to me he would keep the airbenders alive. I helped with the assault because people were starving in the Fire Nation. We wanted to take over your food supply to mitigate the poverty. I never wanted this to happen."
Kunchen focused on Jangbu's breathing, but he couldn't help but ask. "Your brother...is the Firelord?"
"Then why did you help us?" Taro asked.
"I don't know," Kuzon said, sounding frustrated. "I just couldn't go along with my brother anymore. I guess I felt like I owed it to Aang."
"I don't believe it," Taro said. "How do we know you're not a spy or something? Why shouldn't we kill you just to be sure?"
Kuzon looked at him, but his look was sad, not outraged. "I lost everything back there. I betrayed the only family I have. I have no home now. I have no family," Kuzon said, really talking more into the saddle than to any of the monks. He curled up and buried his face in his arms as tears began to crawl down his face. The salt stung his recent cut. He unsheathed his sword and handed it to Taro. "If you want to kill me, kill me. I honestly don't care now." He looked straight at the boy.
Taro took up the sword. He held it up. I have to kill him. If you have to kill...you kill. Taro brought the sword higher.
Then he remembered. Afiko taught me that...and look how he turned out. He handed the sword to Kuzon. "Thanks," Taro grunted. "...for saving us." Kuzon looked at him. Taro stepped towards him again. "If you do anything the least bit suspicious, don't think I won't kill you just because you freed us."
"Ha!" Kuzon snorted, "Don't think I won't kill you just because I freed you," he slid his dao back into the scabbard.
When they landed, Jangbu was rushed to the healers' building, with Kunchen at his side, acting as a respirator. Most of the monks went in with Jangbu, either because they were concerned or because they were somehow injured themselves. Kuzon went in for his face, but he didn't even want the wound fully healed, he just told the waterbenders to dress it, and after they did he left. Taro stayed behind to unload Pema.
Kuzon began to wander listlessly. The South Pole was more like the Northern Tribe back then. There were fantastic buildings of ice and snow, waterways and sidewalks to get around. Kuzon had never seen anything like it. Sozin had gone with his mother to a conference in the North Pole once soon before she died (since they wouldn't confer with a female ruler and a male representative was needed), but Kuzon had been too young to accompany them. If he had come here at any other time in his life, he would have probably been overcome with excitement and would have gone sightseeing. Now he walked simply because it was something to do. He didn't care about the buildings. He didn't really even care about the people he had saved. He didn't want to care about anything. He didn't want to think about anything. He just wanted to walk.
He passed Taro outside the building. Taro bent the saddle off Pema. He was trying to focus on the unpacking, the work, anything else than what had happened over the last few days. He caught a glimpse of the young prince over his shoulder. Taro didn't look up from his work completely, but paused for a moment. Then he went back to unhitching the bison. Kuzon briefly paused in turn, then just walked on. Kuzon was in a daze, and he felt a little bit physically ill. What he had done was in such conflict with his image of himself that his body was actually having trouble functioning. There was a canal cut into the ice nearby the healers' building, and Kuzon stumbled over to it, suddenly feeling incredibly thirsty. He bent his head right down to the water like an animal drinking and took three huge gulps before pulling his head out and passing out right next to the water.
Taro noticed he had stopped moving, but went on removing Pema's harness. He was fully prepared to leave the firebender there and forget about him...but he couldn't. Taro's mentor might have been that cold, but he wasn't. He used airbending to lift Kuzon into his arms and brought him into the building. "He passed out outside. He's warm. I think it's a fever," Taro told them. They covered Kuzon with blankets and wet him with rags, but the prince was not experiencing a natural sickness, and the healers had to let it run its course. Kuzon tossed and turned through strange dreams where he heard his mother's voice, and where he was flying with Aang, then suddenly falling...
It was night before Kuzon awoke and left his bed, noticing someone outside his room. Taro was sitting on a bench made of ice in the hall there. "What's your name?" Taro asked him.
Kuzon looked at him, expressionless. "Mushi," he said mockingly.
Taro glared at the obviously fake name. Then he turned his head and continued to stare straight forward. He didn't say anything for a long time. "...Taro," he said finally, bowing.
"...Kuzon." The prince bowed.
There was a pause.
"Kuzon, I have to ask you something: Do you know where the Firelord is going to strike next?"
Kuzon regarded him, and then looked up at the ceiling. "He'll probably go after the other Air Temples. He relies on the element of surprise to invade the temples, so he has to hit the next-closest one before word gets out that the Fire Nation has gone to war."
"Ideally, we want to get there before Afiko steals the bison."
"The airbender who's helping my brother?"
"Another traitor," Kuzon said, mostly to himself. "Like me."
Taro was silent for a while. "Afiko raised me." He looked very sad.
"I'm sorry," Kuzon said. "I know what it's like when you think you know someone and they turn out to be...something else."
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Enemies and Traitors chapters|
|Prologues - Brothers - Responsibilities - Necessities - Resources - The Avatar - Opportunities - Preparations - Betrayals - Changing Plans - Scars - Counting Losses - Exiles - Ghosts - Homecoming - The Traitor and the Firelord - Escapes - The Last Chance - Legacies|